English Ivy

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
A message from our English ivy specimen growing up a wall and neighboring tree along the Farmington Canal Trail behind Pauli Murray: "Ivy is one of those plants everyone knows, and comes with a lot of baggage..." well excuse me, don't we all?! I may be getting dragged on the daily for "dominating the canopy," "invading California and the northwestern United States," having fruits that are "toxic to humans and livestock," or being "very costly and labor intensive to eradicate," but the haters only make me stronger. And I didn't hear a peep from them when I was out here purifying their air, making the front of their house all green and trendy, or providing shelter for adorable birds and bats. Long story short, it's tough being famous. I came here all the way from Europe and Africa, so love me or hate me...plant me or spend thousands of dollars and countless Saturdays trying to remove me...I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. ;) With love and ground cover from your favorite woody, perennial vine, English Ivy P.S. Please do not group me together with my sister Poison. We don't know where she went wrong...
Josephine Holubkov, Angela Zhao, Meggie Goodridge
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Crawling vine
Date of tree entry: 
0.45 m
0.63 m
There is some other reason the DBH cannot be measured accurately
Not applicable, English ivy is a woody vine rather than a tree.
Twigs & branches
The English ivy stem is sturdy and lacks thorns. Source: https://garden.org/plants/photo/349253/
English ivy leaves are alternate, evergreen, and waxy. Most leaves are juvenile with a dull green, distinct veins, and variable leaf form with anywhere from 3 to 5 lobes. Mature leaves are unlobed and more glossy. Source: https://www.invasive.org/alien/pubs/midatlantic/hehe.htm https://propg.ifas.ufl.edu/03-genetic-selection/09-genetic-epigenetic.html
Reproductive Structures
Only mature English ivy plants produce flowers. English ivy flowering occurs in late summer through early fall, when it gets full sun. Flowers are yellow-green and form in small, dome-shaped umbels that occur at the tip of each flowering stem. The flowers are perfect, with both male and female reproductive organs. English ivy flowers are pollinated by a wide variety of insects, including bees, flies, and butterflies, a valuable source of nectar for these species as it flowers at a time when few other plants do. Source: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/plants/wild-flowers/ivy/
English ivy fruits are berries which are dark purple/black with a fleshy outer layer and 2-5 stone-like seeds. Timing varies by location, but in its native European region the English ivy fruit ripens over the winter. These fruits contain glycosides that may be mildly toxic to humans and other animals. Seeds are dispersed primarily by birds through regurgitation. Source: https://www.fs.usda.gov/database/feis/plants/vine/hedhel/all.html https://www.invasive.org/alien/pubs/midatlantic/hehe.htm https://hortographical.wordpress.com/2015/04/24/ivy-seeds-and-seedlings/
  • English ivy in winter (2/8/23)
  • English ivy in winter (2/8/23)
  • English ivy in winter (2/8/23)
  • English ivy in winter (2/8/23)
  • English ivy in spring (4/25/23)
  • English ivy in spring (4/25/23)
  • English ivy in spring (4/25/23)
  • English ivy in spring (4/25/23)
  • English ivy in summer (Source: https://www.invasive.org/alien/pubs/midatlantic/hehe.htm)
  • English ivy in summer (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedera_helix)
  • English ivy in autumn (Source: https://kingcounty.gov/services/environment/animals-and-plants/noxious-weeds/weed-identification/english-ivy.aspx)
  • English ivy in autumn (Source: https://kingcounty.gov/services/environment/animals-and-plants/noxious-weeds/weed-identification/english-ivy.aspx)
Natural range of distribution: 
English ivy is a very adaptable plant that grows well in a variety of environments and soil pH levels. It is found primarily in deciduous forest edges, woodlands, hedgerows, coastal areas, salt marsh edges, and other upland areas that are wet but not too wet, as it does not do well in areas of high moisture. English ivy is rare among exotic plants in its ability to grow in deep shade (as well as full sun), but it thrives most in slightly sunny to shady areas. English ivy is almost always found crawling up larger organisms such as elms, oaks, and maples, or even buildings and lamp posts in more developed areas. This tendency to climb on other plants is why English ivy is often a target for removal or eradication in non-native regions such as the US. Uninhibited ivy growth can eventually prevent trees from getting adequate sunlight (especially deciduous trees) and weigh down branches to the point of breakage. They also outcompete understory vegetation. Occasionally, ivy will wrap so tightly around a tree that it “strangles” them — a phenomenon that has been observed in the beloved redwoods of the American west coast. If English ivy isn’t close enough to a taller structure to climb, it will continue to grow as ground cover. English ivy as ground cover offers shelter for small animals such as rodents to feed, but this can also come at the expense of tree and shrub health. Forests with English ivy have been observed as becoming less diverse as the ivy spreads more. Many states urge their residents not to plant ivy due to its effects on the rest of the ecosystem, but thus far only Oregon has made ivy illegal to propagate or sell.
Origin, history, and uses: 


English ivy is native to Eurasia and and northern Africa, with less abundance north of the Alps.


English ivy was originally brought to North America by colonial settlers around 1800 to be used in landscape design. It is often observed as “escaping cultivation,” growing quickly into natural areas due to its invasiveness. This is often accelerated by birds distributing seeds outside of gardens where English ivy may have been intentionally planted. 


The primary use of English ivy in the US is still as an ornamental and landscape plant. The foliage and climbing that makes it so destructive to ecosystems is the same reason why it is sought out for gardens and homes, as it quickly and easily covers large areas of open walls or ground. As discussed, many US conservation groups are urging people not to plant English ivy as it displaces plants that are essential for the livelihood of local wildlife. Ivy is also intentionally planted such that it grows up the walls of buildings, as it can help regulate the temperature and humidity inside. However, without proper maintenance and control it can also damage buildings over time. It is occasionally used for erosion control, but offers only modest protection as it doesn’t form a deep or stable root system (it can slide along with water/soil runoff). English ivy has air purifying properties, so it may be used as a house plant for this reason (along with its attractive foliage). Some cultures use English ivy leaves and roots for medicinal purposes to target illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma.

The plant flowers in the fall, from late August through November. Fruit ripens from March to April, but could extend from December to May depending on the region of the plant. Seeds are dispersed by birds around the time that fruit ripening occurs.

Armstrong, A. C. (205AD, July 1). The origins of the “ivy league” – University Archives. Princeton University. Retrieved April 26, 2023, from https://universityarchives.princeton.edu/2015/07/the-origins-of-the-ivy-…

Koepke-Hill, B. (n.d.). English ivy (Hedera helix - University of Tennessee. Retrieved April 26, 2023, from https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W231.pdf 

Waggy, Melissa A. 2010. Hedera helix. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: https://www.fs.usda.gov /database/feis/plants/vine/hedhel/all.html [2023, April 26].

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. (n.d.). Invasive to avoid: English ivy. CDFW. Retrieved April 26, 2023, from https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Plants/Dont-Plant-Me/English-Ivy#:~…

Abbey, T. (n.d.). English ivy in the landscape. Penn State Extension. Retrieved April 26, 2023, from https://extension.psu.edu/english-ivy-in-the-landscape#:~:text=English%2…(Hedera%20helix)%20is,from%20cut%20vines%20or%20stems. 

Hudson, G. (2022, September 13). Why English ivy is so valuable for city homes and Public Spaces. Evening Standard. Retrieved April 26, 2023, from https://www.standard.co.uk/homesandproperty/gardening/english-ivy-cities…

EDDMapS. 2023. Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System. The University of Georgia - Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. Available online at http://www.eddmaps.org/; last accessed April 26, 2023.

Other information of interest: 

IVY (LEAGUE) FUN FACT: A football game between Penn and Princeton on October 13, 1956 marked the start of the first season of athletic competition between the newly formed Ivy League. The original use of “ivy” to describe the universities in this conference (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Penn, and Dartmouth) was in 1933, when a sports reporter referred to them as the “ivy colleges.” This was perhaps due to the “ivy-covered halls of learning,” but the exact reasoning for this use is unclear. For an interesting history, see this 1936 Daily Princetonian editorial about the formation of the League: https://theprince.princeton.edu/princetonperiodicals/cgi-bin/princetonpe…

Media and Arts

(an adaptation of) “The Ivy Green” by Charles Dickens (1836):

Oh, a hardy plant is the Ivy green,

That creeps over Canal Street walls!

It’s not too picky about its meals, I glean,

On this street so dark and pall.

The wall is crumbled, the stones are decayed,

The plants around it look dead:

There’s nothing here but lots of shade,

A sunflower couldn’t turn its head.

Creeping where no life is seen,

A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

Quickly it grows, ivy covers all things,

Walls, homes, whatever it may be.

Look how high it climbs, how tightly it clings,

To its friend the Sugar Maple Tree!

As it grows across the wall and to the ground,

Across the street it waves,

It peeks above the stones and mounds

To look over at the graves.

Creeping where no one has seen,

A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

Classes have graduated, their theses decayed,

Harvard-Yales have come and passed;

But the stout old Ivy shall never fade,

It’s much prettier than this grass.

This brave green plant, in its lonely days,

Will likely outlive us all:

However big Murray Tower is,

The ivy will grow as tall.

Creeping on, where time has been,

A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

Original poem: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45863/the-ivy-green

Shrub Canopy Area: